When I started practicing Filipino martial arts in 1987, we couldn’t tap the internet for stick vendors. The best we had was Asian World of Martial Arts and Dolan’s Sports catalogs, and later I and I Sports out of California. Let me tell you, what they sold as “Escrima Sticks” in those days were absolute shit. Usually we resorted to ordering 6-foot bo staffs, or 36 inch hanbos and cutting them down to Escrima length. Back then I was doing a Largo Mano system, and we used 32 inch sticks – meaning after 5 minutes with a hacksaw we were left with a lot of useless leftover wood and a typically unbalanced stick for a high price. I started buying cheap rattan wholesale from Pier One imports, which turned out to be basically the same poor quality rattan as the aforementioned Escrima sticks from the martial arts stores.
After a few years we said ‘to hell with it’ and started making our own sticks, experimenting with different hardwoods: hickory, ash, maple, pine, and even exotic varieties such as rosewood and cocobolo. I even found a lumber yard on 7 mile road in Detroit that carried ironwood. The ironwood was too big in diameter to use for our purposes, so we tapered the handle into an oval shape and made “Two handed bashers” as we called them. Anyway, many practice sessions and broken sticks later, we came to the stunning realization that “If it has a grain, it will crack” at this point our focus shifted from the wood to the treatment. This is what we came up with:
Nowadays it’s a band-aid for fraying rattan , but we used to wrap the whole damn stick with it prior to the first use. The tape acted like a skin on the weapon. On the positive side, your stick lasted longer and it was a sure grip. On the negative side, you couldn’t tell your stick from the next guy’s stick, and you didn’t get that satisfying “bok” sound of wood hitting wood.
Extra virgin. I learned this technique from an Egyptian stickfighter. Simply multiple applications by hand, rubbing it onto the stick. Its best no one else sees you doing this.
An Okinawan kobudo friend of mine gave me the following recipe: 2 parts boiled linseed oil to 1 part terpentine. Get the linseed oil at the hardware store. I have a pair of hardwood sticks I treated in this way about 10 years ago, and they’re virtually indestructible. Tung oil by itself can also be used.
Fill a trough with cold water, add a lot of salt. Allow the rattan sticks to soak for a day, and then have at it.
From Mother Nature
The best ‘natural’ woods I have used are eucalyptus and guava. A nice, thorny Irish Blackthone with a knob and metal tip is also very stylish.
For better or for worse, things are much simpler today. I have a certain nomadic contact that gets good quality rattan when he goes to the P.I. I don’t even know his name – it’s programmed into my phone as “Sticks.” Our next supply is only a phone call away.